How to ID Your Hydrangeas

Maybe you just moved to a home that has established hydrangeas in the garden. Perhaps you were gifted a hydrangea, and the care tag got lost. Or maybe you bought that hydrangea last year but can’t seem to remember what type it is after a long winter. You’re not alone, but you’re also not out of luck. Here’s a crash course on all things hydrangea to help you identify what you’re working with!

To start, there are four main types of hydrangeas that you’ll find at a garden center: Bigleaf, Panicle, Oakleaf, and Smooth. Each one requires slightly different care, so once you’re able to identify this, you’re on the right track to maximizing those blooms.

Bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) have smaller, ball-shaped blooms that are usually blue or pink but can be white, red, purple, or a mix of colors. Another way to differentiate them is by their woody stem. Endless Summer® Hydrangeas are all bigleaf hydrangeas.

Care Tips for Bigleaf Hydrangeas

  • Prefer morning sun and afternoon shade.
  • Love well-drained, moist soil. Not dry and not wet.
  • Fertilize a couple of times a year with a bloom-boosting fertilizer. Once when you start to see the green leafy growth in early spring and another time in early July.
  • Prune minimally in spring by removing parts of the stem that didn’t survive the winter. Watch our video on spring pruning before you make any cuts.
  • Never prune in the fall. Watch our video on fall pruning to learn why that’s the case.
The Original Endless Summer® Hydrangea

Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) feature characteristic cone-shaped flowers. They start blooming white around July and age to a gorgeous pink, red, or lime color in the fall. Of course, the color depends on which variety you have.

Care Tips for Panicle Hydrangeas

  • Prefer full sun, but also perform well in part shade. If they are in part shade, make sure they’re getting a healthy dose of sunlight.
  • Don’t prune in the fall. Instead, in the late winter or early spring, cut them back by a third or even a half to help the stems get strong to hold up the big blooms. Watch our video on pruning tips for panicle hydrangeas here.
First Editions® Shrubs & Trees Berry White® Panicle Hydrangea

Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) are relatively early bloomers in June and have unique leaves that look like that of an oak tree. They are native North American woodland hydrangea, so they have a great woody look to them. They provide multiple seasons of interest as they bloom in the early spring, and in the fall, their leaves turn a striking red and deep burgundy.

Care Tips for Oakleaf Hydrangeas

  • Tolerate a decent amount of shade, but sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon is best.
  • Can either deadhead the blooms in mid-to-late summer or leave them and cut them off next spring.
First Editions® Shrubs & Trees Jetstream Hydrangea

Smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) are recognized by their huge white, or sometimes pink, blooms. These hydrangeas only bloom on new growth, with blooms sometimes getting to the size of basketballs!

Care Tips for Smooth Hydrangeas

  • Prefer morning sun and afternoon shade.
  • Do best when planted in well-drained, moist, and acidic soil.
  • They only bloom on new growth, so cut back to the ground in the fall after a hard freeze or in the spring.
Annabelle Smooth Hydrangeas

And there you have it, your crash course on the four main types of hydrangeas is complete. For more information, watch our video discussing how to ID and care for your hydrangeas. Happy identifying, and happy gardening!